In the previous instalment of our Spending Ninjas series, I promised you that the next Spending Ninja will be someone whose face will be familiar to many of you.

Well, there she is! The ‘guilty mum’ herself from the ABC’s hilarious consumer affairs show: The Checkout.

Her real name is Kate Browne and other than being a ‘guilty mum’ (and a mum to young kids in real life), she is also the media spokeswoman for consumer watchdog Choice, one of the leading sources for unbiased information and advice for consumers in Australia.

Choice (also known as the Australian Consumers’ Association – ACA) stays unbiased by refusing to accept any money from advertisers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers or even the government.

They buy and pay full price for any product they review in their magazine or on the website in order to maintain their impartiality.

Choice is also a non-profit organisation which means they only aim to make enough money to maintain their operations and ‘keep the lights on’ so to speak. Their primary source of revenue is from selling their various membership programs.

Choice’s staff are paid a salary which is one of the reasons they need to generate revenue (with the others being having the funds required to purchase the products they review and conducting their campaigns). Their independent board of directors however, are all volunteers and do not get paid. The majority of the board members are elected by Choice’s membership base.

Choice are also famous for their annual ‘shonkys award‘ in which they name and shame the most dodgy products and services in Australia for that year.

So that’s where Kate hangs out for her ‘day job’.

However, this is what she gets up to after hours sometimes… 🙂

Classic ey? 🙂

Now look. We don’t often ‘plug’ TV shows on Spending Hacker (and personally I watch very little of it anyway) but this show is a MUST watch! Seriously.

It’s consumer affairs done in an intelligent and super entertaining way that, in my humble opinion, has never been seen in Australia before! You will actually learn heaps while laughing your a%^ off!

The Checkout was created by the Chaser crew who’ve previously brought to our screens iconic comedy shows like The Chaser’s War on Everything and is a must watch even if you’re not a consumer affairs ‘nerd’ like myself.

If you’ve never seen it before, make sure you check it out when the new season comes out or you can catch up on past episodes through iView.

As the ‘guilty mum’ (and also a mum in ‘real life’) as well as one of Choice’s investigative journalists (and head of their lifestyle section), Kate has some important and very valuable insights about buying baby products as well as consumer affairs in general.

She shares those insights in my interview with her below.

 1.    Hi Kate and welcome to Spending Ninja. In your ‘guilty mum’ segments on the checkout, you’ve often provided examples of how products that are aimed at babies and young children come with a premium price tag, even though they are essentially identical to similar products aimed at adults. How commonplace this practice really is among manufacturers and retailers and can a premium price tag for a product aimed at babies and young kids sometimes be justified?

It’s a practice I see a lot – “mini” versions of products or products that imply you need to get the ‘baby’ or “kid” version even though there is no difference between the products or indeed the adult version.

My favourite is ‘baby’ yoghurt which offers nothing different to regular yoghurt except a higher price than regular yoghurt and sometimes actually has more sugar.

I don’t really think the price hike can be justified – it’s just clever marketing.

2.  Do you think many mums and dads feel guilty nowadays for not spending enough time with their young ones and hope to reduce that guilt by spending money on their kids?

I don’t know if it’s guilt from not spending enough time with their children but more along the lines that people these days are having less children, quite often a little later in life and want to do the right thing by the fewer kids that they do have.
Parenting has almost become like a career, rightly or wrongly, and marketers exploit that.

3. As an expert on baby and kids products and as a mum to young kids yourself, which products do you think are really essential, which are a luxury (i.e. you buy if you have the money for it) and which are a bit OTT (Over The Top) and simply not needed?

It takes all of us parents a few goes around to work out what’s really important and what’s not.

It’s funny the difference between what I bought for my first baby and my second. With my second I was a lot more sensible.

So – what do you need?

A good stroller that can get you out and about easily without running other people off the footpath.

A safe cot to sleep in (you can check which ones are safety approved and recommended by Choice).

The same story with a car restraint, change table that won’t kill your back and later a high chair.

The rest you can probably live without – but every baby and family is different.

However one thing I would definitely NOT recommend are amber teething beads! They simply don’t work and are a choking hazard.

Another thing I would NOT recommend and is possibly the silliest things I have seen are baby knee-pads and walking wings to help little ones learn to walk. That is just plain crazy!

4. What are your top tips for new parents to find the best value products for their newborns in an easy yet effective manner?

First tip would be head to the Choice website.

We have a huge range of advice, buying guides and product reviews on everything you will need for you baby.

As long as it’s safe head online and try and pick up something pre-loved on eBay or Gumtree.

Babies go through their things incredibly quickly as they grow up so there are plenty of almost new products available for second hand prices.

5. Would you feel comfortable to consider buying baby and kids products online from retailers located overseas? If so, what extra checks would you recommend people do?

Absolutely – if you can find it at a good price and they have a decent returns policy.

However its always smart to check if the product has been reviewed and recommended – particularly for safety.

Choice is a great place to do that homework first up.

6. You are a board member at The Parenthood which is a community organisation aimed at creating positive change for kids. What are the biggest challenges your organisation faces at the moment and what are the major initiatives it is involved with?

The Parenthood is going great guns and membership is growing daily.

There are plenty of issues bubbling away but one of the main ones at the moment would be around childcare – from quality to affordability and accessibility.

As a parent if you use formal childcare, it will be the single most expensive outgoing you have. Some parents are paying over $100 a day per child for a day-care place.

Beyond that we cover off plenty of issues that affect Aussie parents from junk food marketing to the medicare levy.

7. You are the media spokeswoman for Choice, one of the most respected consumer advocacy groups in Australia. Based on what you see from being in that position, do you think Aussie consumers are getting more savvy due to all the information that is available for them online or do they rather feel overwhelmed by it?

In Australia we do have some great consumer laws and protections.

The trouble is they aren’t always that easy to understand or invoke.

Choice’s job as I see it is to get the basics of what consumers need to know and what to look out for in a simple and entertaining way that will help to empower consumers in their daily life.

 

Thank you for your time and valuable tips Kate.

This concludes the interview with Kate Browne, Choice’s spokeswoman and The Checkout’s ‘guilty mum’.

If you use social media, you can connect with Kate on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can also follow The Checkout‘s and Choice‘s Facebook pages.

I hope you found Kate’s insights useful and please be on the lookout for our next featured Spending Ninja coming to our website (and your inbox if you’re a subscriber) very soon.

If you have any comments or questions for Kate, please feel free to leave them in the comment box below. We will do our very best to get them all answered for you.

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